Football: The painful failure of a proud man: Trevor Haylett on the highs and lows in Graham Taylor's career

WHEN at last they came, the final words of the Graham Taylor era were the most painful of all. 'I resign', the unequivocal admission of failure, could not have come easily to this immensely proud and dedicated man who believed, just as he had believed as a player and then as a club manager, that he was destined to be a success on the international stage.

Talker Taylor had said a lot over the course of an increasingly bewildering term of office, but you would have to sift carefully through the verbiage to find any suggestion hitherto that the manager himself was culpable for dragging this country's football stock down to the sorry state in which it finds itself today.

Heaven forbid - even on the sorry retreat from Rotterdam and then Bologna, he seemed to be making a case to carry on, posssibly as an overlord to a younger coach, because the experience he had gained made him too valuable to be cast aside. The English supporter wishes some of that 'experience' could have been put to use while there was still a chance his team could qualify for an appearance in the finals next summer.

Through all his words and his obstinacy, through his bemusing choice of every Tom, Dick and Harry to wear an England shirt, Taylor made himself a tabloid target. He can have no complaints. The criticism comes with the territory and for him the territory was the vegetable patch.

The debacle of the 1992 European Championship and the decisive defeat by Sweden saw him caricatured as a turnip-head on the back of one tabloid newspaper. The next game, the next defeat, and now he is an onion head, Spanish style. After the damning setback last June in Oslo it was 'Norse-Manure'; on to America, where shame compounded embarrassment, and it was 'Yanks-Planks'.

They were desperately uncomfortable times for the journalist's son who, with candour and helpfulness, had become the media's friend as he served his apprenticeship at three different clubs before he was the overwhelming choice to succeed Bobby Robson in 1990. He had always talked a good game, right from the December day 21 years ago when he was installed by Lincoln City as the youngest manager in the Football League the day after a hip injury had terminated a modest playing career.

Four years later he led them to promotion, only to then return to the Fourth Division when Elton John sold him the challenge of Watford. It was an inspired choice and before long Watford were in the First Division for the first time.

Out on the training field daily with players of limited means but eager to learn and follow the manager's creed, Taylor was in his element. He carried the players with him and stuck rigidly to a method of play that first aroused the fury of his opponents in the press.

From Watford he went to Aston Villa to revive a club that had lost its way and, what is more, succeeded in forming a partnership with a chairman, Doug Ellis, who was notoriously difficult to work with. Ellis was later to cite Taylor's man-management as 'the best I have come across in the game'.

There would not be many of the present team, or those of the immediate past, willing to agree with those words now. Apart from other areas this was where the man was found wanting, jettisoning the elder statesmen like Bryan Robson, Peter Beardsley and Chris Waddle because he wanted a team in his own image and where he was the major personality.

He fell out in a big way with Gary Lineker and lost the support of Paul Gascoigne and John Barnes because he made the mistake of saying in public what should have been left inside the dressing-room.

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